After 13 years of cooking in restaurants, Jonathan Adler came to the realization he needed a change in his life.
Being the father of a toddler – who’s now four, and has since been joined by another little brother – he needed to pace his workday differently. One that didn’t end in the wee hours of the night.
Today, Adler is the culinary director of Blue Apron, spending his days thinking about home cooks, what they need to find success, and how they can prepare meals quickly with the meal components he creates.
Since he spends most of his time considering the barriers home cooks are challenged with, Health.com asked for his best time-saving tips for home chefs, his thoughts on feeding kids without going crazy, and overcoming the biggest obstacles home cooks face.
When you decided to leave your restaurants, what did you need to change?
You just have to shift your mindset: away from cooking everything that comes to you from a creative space, [and towards] foods that you want to teach people how to cook and that you think they’ll enjoy cooking.
Did any home cooks’ preferences surprise you?
I don’t make mashed potatoes very often. I make potato puree, which is a refined technique. Rarely, maybe once a year, do I make mashed potatoes. I’m generally more of a potato salad person. But people really like making mashed potatoes. They’re comfortable, they’re easy to execute, they’re hearty. … Just because I didn’t do it as a chef doesn’t discount it. … People really appreciate repetition because they can see improvement and personal growth. … A cook who cooks the same dish over and over becomes a master at that.
What’s the longest cooking time home chefs are able to tolerate?
I think everybody wants to be eating in under an hour. Ninety-nine point nine percent of our meals are targeted under an hour. We try to offer a menu portfolio that offers a variety—some of which are really fast.
What seems to be the biggest barrier for home cooks? Hands-on time? Total time?
It’s a variety of things; hands-on time for families. The image in my head is a parent who wants to help their kid with homework or an assigned project, but can’t do that till later because they have to be active in the kitchen the whole time. [Ideally, it’s] “Give me ten minutes, I’m gonna set a 25-minute timer, then I can come help you.”
In that person’s case, it’s hands-on time. For someone else, it’s “I wish dinner was faster; I get home late at night.” Prep is a pain point. For other people, it’s “I haven’t seen my wife all day, I get home, I cook: I don’t want to spend 30 minutes on cooking.”
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The pain points are always going to be different. People who find prep to be a pain point, I recommend trying to prep as many things as you can in advance. Not alliums, such as garlic, ginger and onions, because those things oxidize. [But] as soon as the Blue Apron box gets in the house I clean all the leafy greens and store them in breathable bags. The day I want to use them, I take them out.
I don’t use prep bowls, I just make a pile of everything on a dinner plate. I use a spoon, and spatula, and push [ingredients] off the plate on to the pan. It’s one thing [to clean] as opposed to 6 or 7 bowls of individual ingredients. You can probably cook parts of our recipes in advance if that’s something you want to do. Pain points are always about time.
Interview quotes courtesy Health.com.
Photo Credit: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock.com